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Let's be "Neorealistic"

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

The Italian Neorealism movement that changed the way of film making all over the world.

I love movies more than I can properly articulate. I love watching them on tv, because they have been present in every moment of my life I can remember. They were literally my best friends when I was a kid and a good companion after a long working day today. I can always rely on a good film when I am sad and tired. One of the few things that I learned in drama school is the simple trick of taking a step back to view something you already know through a new, academic lens. I learned how to view, deconstruct, and understand something as seemingly innate as genre. And it was in that very moment during a class that I found out Italian Neorealism cinema were at first place in my favorite genre list.

Italian Neorealism can be defined as a cultural movement concerning film making that began immediately after World War II until early 1950s. Neorealism films focus more on the social problems that developed during the war - rather than fiction - and the ramifications of life in Italy after the war with a practical approach to filmmaking. The films depicted the moral conditions and economic difficulties of Italy during that time capturing aspects of human nature on film.

In the 1940s as it became increasingly clear that fascist regimes were on the decline in both Europe and Asia – many artists turned to a new type of cinema. Italian Neorealism was born out of this cultural shift and sought to bring an honest depiction of life back to film. I love this genre because it brings social issues on silver screen for the first time focusing on everyday life with stories about poverty and working-class struggles in post-war Italy. While relatively short-lived, this genre became highly influential in cinema all over the world.

Characteristics of Italian Neorealism

These are the main characteristics we can find in a Neorealism movie that made me love this genre more than everything:

1. The directors avoided complicated editing and lighting and preferred a more natural and simple style, making the film look like a documentary.

2. The directors made more use of a collective rather than an individual narrative (rather based on the figure of the hero for example).

3. The choice to cast non-professional actors

4. The actions happened in real places and mainly outside

5. A more popular language was used

6. The stories were simpler

7. Most of the scenes were improvised

“Everyone could play one role perfectly: himself.”

- Vittorio De Sica

In other words, Neorealism directors avoided American-style films like commercial comedies. And it doesn't take much to understand why: Cinecittà film studios were severely damaged by the allied forces, they were then completely destroyed to stop Fascism propaganda and thus made unusable. That's why directors had to seek alternative filmmaking practices. This necessarily led to a sudden shift in Italian cinematic storytelling, both in terms of moviemaking methodology and the topics covered.

Neorealist directors redefined how filmmakers could show everyday life of real people, with an emphasis on real world struggles in the aftermath of WWII, on the big screen.

"I try to capture reality, nothing else."

- Roberto Rossellini

Most Influential Italian Neorealist Films and Directors

Ladri di Biciclette - Bicycle Thieves - 1948

Director: Vittorio De Sica

In post-war Italy, a working-class man's bicycle is stolen, endangering his efforts to find work. He and his son set out to find it. Source IMDb

Roma, Città Aperta - Rome, Open City - 1945

Director: Roberto Rossellini

During the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1944, the Resistance leader, Giorgio Manfredi, is chased by the Nazis as he seeks refuge and a way to escape. Source IMDb.

La Terra Trema - The Earth Trembles - 1948

Director: Luchino Visconti

In rural Sicily, the fishermen live at the mercy of the greedy wholesalers. One family risks everything to buy their own boat and operate independently. Source IMDb.

Umberto D. , 1952

Director: Vittorio De Sica

An elderly man and his dog struggle to survive on his government pension in Rome. Source IMDb.

Riso Amaro - Bitter Rice, 1949

Director: Giuseppe De Santis

Two criminals on the run end up working in a rice field and decide to recruit other workers for their next robbery. Source IMDb.

Ossessione - Obsession - 1943

Director: Luchino Visconti

Gino, a drifter, begins an affair with inn-owner Giovanna, and they plan to get rid of her older husband. Source IMDb.

Paisà - Paisan - 1946

Director: Roberto Rossellini

American military personnel interact warily with a variety of Italian locals over a year and a half in the push north during the Italian Campaign of WWII as German forces make their retreat. Source IMDb.

La Strada - The Road - 1954

Director: Federico Fellini

A care-free girl is sold to a traveling entertainer, consequently enduring physical and emotional pain along the way. Source IMDb.

Germania Anno Zero - Germany, Year Zero - 1948

Director: Roberto Rossellini

A young German boy faces the problems of the tough life in the immediate post-WWII Berlin. Source IMDb.

The Bandit - Il Bandito - 1946

Director: Alberto Lattuada

A contingent of Italian prisoners of war arrive on a train from Germany after World War II to Turin. The city where Ernesto lives has been bombed, his mother is dead and his sister has gone missing. Source IMDb.

Miracolo a Milano - Miracle in Milan - 1951

Director: Vittorio De Sica

An open-hearted, unrelentingly energetic orphan struggles to make the best of his life on the streets of Milan. Source IMDb.

The Vanquished - I vinti - 1953

Director: Michaelangelo Antonioni

A trilogy of stories of well-off youths who commit murders. In the French episode, a group of high school students kill one of their colleagues for his money. In the Italian episode, a university student's involved in smuggling cigarettes. In the English episode, a lazy poet finds the body of a woman on the downs, and tries to sell his story to the press. Source IMDb.

I Vitelloni - 1953

Director: Federico Fellini

A character study of five young men at crucial turning points in their lives in a small town in Italy. Source IMDb.

Pane, amore e fantasia - Bread, Love and Dreams - 1953

Director: Luigi Comencini

When a veteran marshal is sent to a small town, he quickly falls for two women: a midwife and an earthy young woman nicknamed "Frisky". Source IMDb.

Italian neorealism was such a revolutionary genre that changed forever filmmaking in the movie industry. Some even define it the anti-Hollywood choice as it depicted everyday life in all its complexity.


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